Updated: October 2, 2020 | Original Post: September 11, 2019
It has never been easy to be either a parent or teenager. Trying to raise a young person who is going through puberty and also learning to spread their wings can be very stressful … and of course rewarding.
In normal times, I would be pushing to have extreme limits on technology usage as there is a lot of evidence that being online can have serious effects on teens. In 2020, COVID-19 has made me throw out the textbook … or at least write a new chapter!
First, let’s go through my recommendations for normal times.
According to Kidshealth.org, there are studies showing teens can spend up to 9 hours a day online, using their phone, in front of the TV, or playing video games.
Many of these activities are changing how people interact – for example there are games that can involve players from all over the world. Instead of friends meeting at somebody’s house, more and more they are going to their own homes and then connecting with each other remotely.
In my video on Video Game and Online addiction, I discuss the difference between what I call virtual time and time in the real world, and the problems that it causes. I actually think that the bigger problem is the social changes that are taking place.
Physical activity is being replaced by online games. VR (virtual reality) is now adding a new element that I think will increase the chances of addiction.
One of my pet peeves is sitting in a restaurant and watching children as young as one year of age being supervised by a smart phone or tablet. Even worse is when they have it in front of them as they are walking in.
These poor children are being robbed of the opportunity to learn how to sit quietly on their own and to self-regulate. Are they quiet – yes (until their video ends). Are they learning important social skills … I’m sure you can answer this one for yourself 🙁.
If I’m describing you as a parent and this upsets you, then ask yourself if what I am saying makes sense or not. Then do as you think is best.
Recommendations for COVID-19
My comment at the beginning about how COVID-19 has changed how I see the usage of technology does not apply to young children, so my feelings about phones and tablets babysitting kids in restaurants has not changed.
To combat the rise in time spent in the virtual world, at least prior to COVID, I suggest the following with my changes for COVID here as well:
- Don’t allow your teens to use their phones during meals or alone in their bedrooms. Will this make you popular as a parent – no. But it will teach your young adult that there are places where the real world is the only place for them to be.
This point I will adapt because of COVID-19. Because people are at home and together more often than in the past, especially with parents often working from home, it may make sense for people to use their technology in their bedrooms
- Follow the rules that you put on your teens. If you expect them to have device-free times, then you must as well.
This recommendation does not change – if you expect your teens to not use their phone during dinner, then you need to lead by example!
- If you are worried about your teen, then talk to them … without judgement. Let them know why you are concerned and that you care.
This recommendation also remains the same – it’s always good to talk to your kids! I’m sometimes asked if “without judgement” means agreeing with your teenager. Parents also ask me if this means they can’t impose consequences. The answer is that you are still in charge.
Let’s say your teen took an inappropriate picture of themselves and sent it to friends. You might take their phone away. If that is the natural consequence of their action, then you should still impose the consequence.
Removing judgement helps them learn from their experiences. Saying that you are disappointed in them is judgement of them as a person. Saying you are disappointed in what they did is telling them that their action was wrong. It is a subtle yet large and important difference.
- Visit your child’s school and talk to the principal and guidance counsellors about how the school manages devices. See if there are ways to create a similar environment at home – consistency may be easier to understand by your teenager.
Because of COVID-19 this might be harder to arrange as access to schools is more restrictive. If your child is going to school in person, I would still try to do this. If they are learning online then you can skip to the next point!
- This is the hard one – don’t give up your authority. If you are paying the bills for their phone, then don’t be afraid to cut them off when your rules are not being followed. Following through will demonstrate your seriousness and also that you care for your children.
This recommendation also does not change. Your kids, including teens, need to know that there is structure and limits to what they are able to do. Not only is this to help you at home, but to help them learn for when they are on their own.
The Biggest COVID-19 Change
The biggest change that COVID has introduced is the amount of time that I would say is healthy to be online. In this case, my definition of “health” has expanded to include social health. A person’s overall health is a combination of their medical/biological, mental, and social health and this picture shows how they interrelate as “biopsychosocial health”:
Prior to COVID, there were many more activities for people of all ages to take part in. Now, because of COVID, the selection is limited. A teenager’s phone or PS4 might be their main way of keeping in touch with friends. Without it they may be completely cut-off.
Therefore, my recommendation is to monitor HOW they are using their technology. If in your judgement they are being responsible and it is helping them maintain social connections, then it may be best to let them do it. You still can impose rules – no phones at meals, phone is gone after a certain time of the day, no phone before being ready for school, etc. – but it is important to realize that under COVID-19 technology like cell phones are a core part of people keeping in touch with each other.
If you ever have the chance, I HIGHLY recommend attending one of Paul Davis’ sessions on Internet security. The damage that can be done to a teenager’s life by poor decisions with their phones or online can last a lifetime. Paul offers a blunt and compelling message that all parents need to hear. Check him out on Facebook.